RIAA uses ‘digital tags’ to catch music pirates

A recent article by The Chronicle of Higher Education divulged how suspected music pirates on college campuses are caught. More than 100 Indiana University students have received notices between April 2007 and this month notifying them they were being sued for copyright infringement.

The article, which cites an anonymous Recording Industry Association of America employee, goes into detail about the process from the time a potential copyrighted file is detected to the time notices are sent to the university where the IP address – a tag on computers that serves like its cyber street address – is located. However, IU students who have been sued for copyright infringement, such as junior David Lota, have differing views on the process’s effectiveness.

“People will always be coming up with new ways to beat the system,” Lota said.

Lota was ordered to pay a $4,000 fine in April 2007 for sharing music through LimeWire, a music-downloading program.

The RIAA has hired MediaSentry to track down possible music pirates by using copies of programs like LimeWire and automated search engines that seek out songs on the RIAA’s copyright list.

“This is new information they’re telling us,” said Merri Beth Lavagnino, chief information policy officer of University Information Technology Services. “We know they were using the company MediaSentry, but we didn’t have any details on how they detected the infringement.”

After finding the songs and determining whether their copyrights have been infringed upon, the next step is to find out at what IP address the song is located. With this, the Internet service provider, or ISP, can be determined.

If the ISP is a college or university, letters are sent to the school asking for the song to be removed. Since an individual’s name is not known by the RIAA with just the IP address, the school is responsible for tracking down and notifying the user.

“Pre-litigation settlement letters” are sometimes sent out first instead, depending on how serious the RIAA believes the piracy in question to be. In these instances, violators are immediately asked to pay several thousand dollars or face court penalties and the possibility of a larger fine.

Lota was taken aback by the impersonality of the process, saying he had to talk to “some girl who wasn’t at all involved” and give her his credit card information.

“It was basically just calling up their hotline and giving them my credit card number, and they just took my $4,000,” Lota said. “I don’t think it’s the best process, but I guess it’s their way of setting an example or trying to get richer than they already are.”

Whether or not the process is the best available, the RIAA still believes it is making strides in deterring people from illegally sharing and downloading music online.

“What we do know, from a broader perspective, is that the music industry’s education and deterrence efforts have impacted the way people acquire music online,” said RIAA Spokesperson Liz Kennedy in an e-mail.

Lota agreed that changes have been made in the way people obtain music, citing options such as iTunes and streaming music online. However, he’s not sure it’s enough.

“They’re trying to catch up, but I don’t think they’re ahead of the curve yet,” he said. “You can see that record sales are down and they’re still trying to fight it. People don’t buy CDs anymore. People are either illegally or legally downloading music.”

IU has been taking strides, however, to ensure that students are aware of the consequences of illegally downloading music.

“We educate,” Lavagnino said. “That’s what we figure our role is. We don’t police.”

She went on to list many different examples, including campus-wide e-mails, posters and other awareness programs that discourage illegal music downloading, especially to incoming freshmen.

UITS has determined that of the roughly 98,000 students on the IU network about 1 percent will be implicated by a copyright notice in any given year, Lavagnino said, affecting about 1,000 students among all eight IU campuses.

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